60 Years Since '63: Newly Digitized March on Washington Records | Presbyterian Historical Society

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60 Years Since '63: Newly Digitized March on Washington Records

August 14, 2023

Sixty years ago this month, over 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the endpoint of a massive protest march organized to draw attention to the Civil Rights Movement. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom may be most famous for serving as the backdrop of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech, best known by the phrase: “I Have a Dream.”

The Presbyterian Historical Society recently published a set of documents detailing the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.’s (UPCUSA) involvement in this historic march. The documents, available in Pearl Digital Collections, join a number of previously digitized photographs, recordings, and other historical records related the Civil Rights Movement—and, more specifically, the participation of Presbyterians in the fight for racial equality in America.

NEW! Correspondence about the March’s organization. On July 24, 1963, John H. Grosvenor, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Washington City, addressed a letter to the leaders of the presbytery’s member churches, encouraging them to tell their congregants about the upcoming March on Washington. You can read through that document below. 

We've also digitized a letter written by Rev. Thomas Kilgore (a representative of the March on Washington) to Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, Stated Clerk of the UPCUSA. In the letter, Rev. Kilgore urgently asks for financial support for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. You can read the letter here.

The protest organizers chose the Lincoln Memorial as their scenery for a reason—1963 marked the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, King opened his speech with explanation: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice…But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free…And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check.”

Presbyterians at the March on Washington. Along with King, the crowd heard speeches from civil rights, labor, civic, and religious leaders—including Eugene Carson Blake, the Stated Clerk of the UPCUSA and spokesperson for the National Council of Churches (NCC)You can read about other church leaders who were present at the March in this blog post from August 2013, “One Hot Summer Day in Washington, D.C.”

Presbyterian protestors share their experiences. You can read first-hand accounts of Presbyterians who participated in the March on Washington, like Gayraud Wilmore, in "Reminiscences from the March on Washington, 1963." These stories first appeared in the Civil Rights special issue of The Journal of Presbyterian History.

Explore Digital Resources

Online exhibit highlights the Church’s participation. PHS’s online exhibit, “Presbyterians and the Civil Rights Movement,” features interpretive text, images, and other archival items that share the various ways in which the Church was involved with the Civil Rights Movement. From the creation of the Commission on Religion and Race to the Delta Ministry of Mississippi, learn how the Presbyterian Church dealt with racism and segregation in the 1960s by browsing the exhibit linked above.

Photographs that teleport you to that hot August day in 1963. Our "Civil Rights, Protests, and Social Reformers" digital collection in Pearl highlights the Presbyterian and ecumenical involvement in the March on Washington, as well as a number of other civil rights movements, protests, and social justice issues.

March leaders confer with president. [islandora:7220]

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